Mozzarella French Toast Sandwiches with Marinara Dip and Asparagus-Fennel Soup with Pistachio Pesto


This week’s cooking class, SPRING BRUNCH, still has an opening for Wednesday, 4/29, 5-8pm; let me know!  Make any quiche,  then make your own favorite breakfast sausage. Top it off with Bananas Foster Bread pudding with Caramel Sauce.  List of upcoming classes and registration info located at the top, right corner of blog under CURRENT CLASSES. Can’t wait to cook with you.

When the rest of the country appears to be celebrating spring, we in the beautiful state of Colorado experience snow, hail, rain, thunder, and more all in one day.  The day before it was sunny and 65, but that didn’t mean peas were blooming or asparagus was ready; it just meant the tumbleweeds weren’t dry and blowing yet and the small pot of hopeful pansies was being very faithful indeed.

IMG_7466 IMG_7470

I don’t think we get depressed about it because, after all, we probably have the best weather overall in the country.  We have temperate winters, rare rainy days, cool summer nights, and a continually changing western view as the clouds decide what they’re going to do with the mountains at any given time.  But we may need to occasionally think like spring.  And when we do, we make comforting skillets full of warming goodness because spring can be damned cold here.  A wet 45 is colder than a dry 10.  Last Thursday night when I came out of work after teaching the FRENCH NIGHT AT HOME class, I had to clean off inches of snow from the car and ruined my shoes in the wet frozen slush. Life has loveliness to sell, as Sara Teasdale says.  We’re thankful for the moisture because we live in fire country… Continue reading

Egg and Ham Sandwich with Greek Goddess Dip and Radish Salad or Using What You Have on Earth Day

IMG_5582After Easter there is a plethora of goodies in the refrigerator.  The blessings of not only having enough to eat, but more than enough (witness my weight problem and perhaps yours, too)… are beautiful if sometimes embarrassing.  “An embarrassment of riches” is what it’s called, I think.   Others might use the pejorative meme, “First world problems.”   I choose to be grateful, but careful.  Full of breath, but conservative in the best sense of the word.  In a country where 30- 40% of our food is discarded, but

48.8 million Americans—including 16.2 million children— live in households that lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis. As a result, they struggle with hunger at some time during the year.

(No Kid Hungry dot org)

you can see why a food blogger would think twice before cooking, eating, or posting anything at all.  There are moments I’m shifty-eyed and clench-jawed just thinking of recipes that discuss things like the quality of certain cheeses or chocolates that easily set one back $25 a pound.  Add in to this mix the concepts revolving around our fascination with being thin (witness the folks in magazines or on tv) and a faithful, earth-loving person begins to be more than confused. Continue reading

Pancetta Lentil Soup or Croque, Monsieur

I love and adore lentil soup.  (Hint:  Don’t eat it three days running.)
When I say this to my sister, she says,

“OH NO!  I HATE LENTIL SOUP.  Though I once loved it.”

Now how could anyone hate lentil soup?  (Unless they’ve never eaten it.  I think, in my sister’s case, she ate it three days running.  That’s how I know.)

I don’t think I ever ate lentil soup as a child.  (I could be wrong.)   My mom, from the south, more than likely made bean soup or pinto bean soup.  I can’t remember where I first ate lentil soup.  We lived in Europe during the late ’80’s…maybe then.  But, I’m guessing it might have been in a restaurant.  Which one?  Your guess is as good as mine.  No matter.  The fact is, I make incredible lentil soup. 

Ok, most ANYONE makes incredible lentil soup.  And, if you don’t?  I’m here to teach you how. 

The beauty of lentil soup is thus:  Although it appears like a forever-and-a-day-cooked legume soup, lentil is pretty fast.  And if you pour boiling water over the lentils as you begin the soup, it’s even faster.  (A hint:  split pea is fast, too.  It’s a camping soup, even.)  So if you want food to look like (or taste like) you spent all day long at it, go to the mall til 4.  Rush home, start the soup, and look like a heroine at dinner.  No one needs to know you were trying on high-heeled red leather boots at 3:55pm. 

And what about the Croque, Monsieur?  I’ll tell you how to do that in a flash as well.  Think grilled ham and cheese and you’re almost done.   Really, it’s Croque Monsieur or Croque Madame (if you put a fried egg on top).. and this my take on these sandwiches; they’re very tasty.  There are other more complicated croque monsieurs and madames; you can look them up.  I like the very easy monsieur here.

It so feels like fall here…  And today the mountains are covered in Moses-like clouds.  While the heat is not on yet, it may be tomorrow.

below:  Dave enjoying some soup on the deck on October 21, 2010

Oh, and thank God for The Church at Woodmoor and for Dr. Tom’s cat Olive returning home.  Take care of my nephew John.  Amen.  There.  Thanks to all for all the incredible birthday wishes.    Now on to the soup!

Pancetta Lentil Soup
 10-12 servings

1# green or brown lentils (I like green)
3-4 c boiling water
1-2 oz pancetta (Italian bacon) diced  (or 3 pieces American bacon, diced)*
6 stalks celery, diced (You can use food processor for all of veggies-in batches-for speed.)
3 onions, diced
2 shallots or 1 leed (white part) diced
4oz mushrooms, chopped
1/4 c chopped fresh parsley
1t fresh thyme or 1/2 t dried thyme
3 qt chicken broth (low-sodium)
1 c white wine (or water)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups carrots, peeled and chopped
1 c  chopped new potatoes
15 oz can chopped tomatoes
1 zucchini, chopped
1 yellow (summer) squash, chopped
Kosher salt; freshly ground black pepper
Droplets of Tabasco (or other) hot sauce
1/2 c Parmesan, grated

Bring to a boil 3-4 cups of water and pour over lentils in a large bowl.  Set aside.

In a 10-12 qt. stock pot, saute chopped pancetta  over medium heat until golden.  Add celery, onions, shallots or leeks and mushrooms.  Stir in herbs. Saute until softened, about 10-12 minutes.  Stir often.

Add broth and wine or water and bring to a boil.  Add lentils, garlic, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes and squashes.   Season with 2t salt and 1/2 t pepper and several drops of Tabasco.  Taste and adjust seasonings. Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to high simmer.  Let cook until vegetables and lentils are tender–about an hour.  (Less at sea level.)  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Serve in large bowls and pass Parmesan at the table.

above:  after adding lentils to sauteed veg
below:  after adding broth and wine, before the simmer ’til it’s done

*For another lentil soup, use chopped ham here or even sliced kielbasa.  I have often used bulk breakfast sausage for a very hearty soup.  If you’d like a veggie or vegan soup, simply saute the veggies in olive oil only, use vegetable broth, and skip the Parmesan cheese.

Lovely with Croque Monsieur sandwiches.

 Alyce’s Quick Croque Monsieur  or Ham and Cheese Grilled French Toast
serves 4
2T each, butter and olive oil

8 slices Italian bread
2T Dijon-style mustard
2 eggs
1T water
Salt and pepper
1/2# Black Forest ham (or your favorite ham)
1/4# Sliced Swiss Cheese (I like Emmanthaler)

Heat oven to 250 degrees F and place a cookie sheet in oven.

In a large skillet, heat oil and butter over medium heat.

Meantime, beat eggs and water in  a large, shallow  bowl (a pasta bowl works well).  Season with a good-sized pinch of salt and pepper.  Beat again.

Spread each piece of bread lightly with Dijon mustard.  With the mustard-covered sides facing inward, layer four slices of bread with ham and top with cheese, dividing the meat and cheese equally amongst the four slices.  Top each with another slice of bread and dip in the beaten egg-water mixture.  Turn sandwich over and wet the other side well with the egg-water mixture.

Gently place each sandwich in the heated pan.  Cook until the first side is golden brown, 3-4 minutes.  Turn over and cook the other side of both sandwiches until that side is brown. Remove to  cookie sheet in  oven to keep warm and repeat with other two sandwiches.

Serve with hot lentil soup.

                                              below:  apples and peanut butter-fall dessert

Cold weather means nothing when there’s food like this.  Lovely with an almost-cold glass of Chardonnay.

Sing a new song,

Two-Dog Kitchen and Around the ‘Hood

Alas, alack.  Skippy has been gone a couple of weeks now.  Back “home.”  Anecdotal evidence appears to indicate he misses us not…  Oh well.

Above:   Big-Mouth Gab
Below:  Grandma Melinda and Katie with baby-to-be due in November

Meantime, I’ve promised my physical therapist I’ll blog about my fitness.  So, here are a few sentences until later:  I’ve been in physical therapy for months regaining my upper-body strength, sapped by years of bad conducting practices, tendonitis, and pinched nerves.  Over the last two months, I’ve begun lifting weights and have addeed other exercises.  This month, I’ve graduated to a “Y” membership, where I’ve begun to think of myself as gymrat.  Kind of.   Dave is going, too…when he’s home.  While I wouldn’t exactly call myself a new woman, I’m certainly not the same being as before.  As I figure out how to talk about it, I’ll say more.  I will say that if you spend a half an hour on the treadmill, watching how many calories you burn go up ever so slowly, you’re less apt to over-indulge at lunch.

Friday Night Dinner in the Fireplace or Still too Cold for the Grill

Usually I do a lovely dinner on Friday nights.
While we’re Christians, we think of it as our Sabbath…
We’re both home.  Time to breathe, rest, catch up.   Live.
No watches.
No cell phones.
No television.
But where was spring?  I was getting desperate for a little lamb grilled outdoors.
Maybe a glass of wine on the deck before it got too cold.  (The light is lasting now.)
Mother Nature had other plans.
In Colorado Springs, we have so little rain that I usually can’t remember the last time it rained.   So when it does blow up a storm (we often have dry storms come summer) and then drizzles all day, I must be grateful.  Even if I can’t cook on the grill.
So I had some chicken apple sausage, which, to my not-very-sausage-saavy-palate, tastes a lot like brats.  A fraction of the fat.  They’re pretty versatile.  Already fully-cooked, you can grill them and eat them on a roll, slice them into a salad, put them in bean soup, or chop them up into scrambled eggs.  Lots.   Friday night, I said, “Ok, if the grill won’t come to me, I’ll come to the fireplace.”  Or something like it.  We dug out the wienie forks from the dusty camp kitchen stored in the garage, and while I heated up some soup I’d frozen last month, grilled onions and buns, Dave built a fire.  When it was ready, we roasted wienies in the basement.    Tucker, of course, wanted some.  No way.

and watched “Gladiator.”  So sad at the end….
Sing a new song; skip the grill and cook at the fireplace, let sleeping dogs lie…..

Meatloaf Panini or I Always Loved YOU (and Meatloaf Sandwiches)

Meatloaf, though well-loved (like you–Happy Valentine’s, friend)  is often the source of ridicule.  People laugh about it, call others by its name and while they eat it without turning up their noses (in fact, they really want it), it perhaps is wolfed down with a little snotty, eye-raising disdain.  When they mention it, their voices lower and, sotto voce, with eyes slanted, they run on about the meatloaf their mothers made with ketchup.  On the other hand, if no one is really listening, they are hot on the trail of a good recipe.  If you bring up meatloaf at the hairdresser’s, ten women will soon be surrounding you, wanting to know how in the (well, you know) you make it and just how good is it?  Do you use a mixture of meats?  Turkey? If so, how do you flavor it?  They want it now.

And so on.

Bring up mashed potatoes and boiled carrots (then sauteed in a little butter and honey and thyme) and the world is at your feet.  It’s like talking biscuits.  Chocolate chip cookies.  Beef stew. Chicken and dumplings.

Feeding six people for years and years led me to think about and try many kinds of meatloaf before settling on a rather pedestrian, (embarassing to admit I still use an envelope of dry onion soup mix in it),  but very quickled snarffed down and s-i-m-p-l-e (also cheap) version.  Later, I began making meatloaf for the homeless when we fed them at our church.  I sometimes made it just so we’d have meatloaf sandwiches to travel with when we were on the way to a camping spot or traveling across country.   We were kind of the meatloaf bunch back then.

When the kids walked (or ran) off, one by one, I found I made it less often.  How much meatloaf can two people eat?  It went the way of big trays of biscuits and dozens of homemade blueberry muffins for dinner every night.  It went the way of 12 qt pots of spaghetti sauce. In the place of those cooking for the masses dishes,   I started cooking 3 quarts of Tyler Florence’s bolognese. (And still had to freeze some.)  I began to fall in love with tiny lamb chops served over barely warmed arugula with slivers of parmesan and almonds…all served with mind-warming Pinot Noir from Oregon.  I fixed saute pans full of sole and plates of quickly grilled vegetables topped with feta and fresh basil.  No need for big ol’ pot roasts and 2# meatloafs…or was there?  I adored (and yet do) cooking for two.  Yes… but, then again…….

One day, I just couldn’t stand it any more,  I had to have meatloaf.  And potatoes. And carrots.    So I made it.  I made it all.  And, of course, it was mostly all still there the next day.  I said, “Let’s not cook tonight; let’s have meatloaf sandwiches and watch a movie in the basement.”  Dave was all over that.  I told my good friend, Sandy, about it and she, too, was enthusiastic.  “Oh YES and have a nice, round red with them.”   Which sounded fine.  I adored meatloaf sandwiches.  But…

As I went to fix them, the new cook in me, the one who cooks for two,  pulled out the grill pan.  She grabbed the cast-iron, wooden handled press (my cheap panini maker) that we used to cook meat camping.  She searched out a little spinach, some fresh basil, a jar of salsa and whatever cheese was in the cheese drawer.  And here’s how she did it because, friends, she made

Meatloaf Panini with Sauce for Dipping
serves 2!  (orignial meatloaf recipe below–keep reading at end)

                        Make it with cheddar, serve salsa for dipping.
                        Make it with provolone, serve marinara for dipping

4 slices whole wheat bread (large slices); I like them with seeds
1T butter
2T coarse ground Dijon-style mustard
3-4 thin slices meatloaf (your choice)

4 slices cheese (provolone or cheddar, depending on the sauce)            
1/4 c fresh basil leaves
1/4 c fresh spinach leaves

1 c marinara or salsa for dipping (depending on which sandwich you make)                                                                                          


Heat a grilling pan (or large cast-iron skillet) over medium-high heat.  Butter each slice of bread on one side.  On the other side of only two slices, spread the mustard.  Place one slice bread on the pan and lay on the  meatloaf, cheese and basil and spinach leaves.  Top with other slice of buttered bread.  Repeat.  Lay something heavy on top (a grill press or a heavy pan or plate) and grill until toasty brown on one side.  Turn over and grill until the other side is just as brown.  Eat while it’s hot!!!– right away, each served w/ 1/2 c  desired sauce in a ramekin or small bowl.

SIDES:  Chips, pickles.  Right.
WINE:  Rhone.  (We drank a California Rhone called “Incognito.”  Whoo Hoo.)
DESSERT:  Small piece of dark chocolate with the rest of the wine.

Porque no?
Pourquoi pas?
Happy Valentine’s Day! 
Sing a new song; grill a new sandwich,

Meatloaf recipe:  1# lean ground beef, 1# bulk breakfast sausage, 4 cloves garlic, grated or minced finely,  1 15 oz can tomato sauce, 1 ex-large egg, 1 envelope dry onion soup mix. 2 slices bread (torn in small pieces) 1/2 t ground black pepper, 1T dry basil, 1T dry oregano.  In large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients well using your great hands.  Pat meat mixture into 9×5 loaf pan (I like glass) and bake at 350F for an hour.  Pour off grease.  Let meatloaf remain in pan, covered with foil, for 10-15 minutes before cutting.